Insurance shoppers should get a CLUE
By HELEN HUNTLEY, Times Personal Finance Editor

Comparison shopping for car insurance pays off, we financial writers assure our readers, urging them to make the effort. When I tried it myself, I saved money, but a root canal would have been more fun.

I ran into trouble right away, trying to assemble five years' worth of information about my three-car, three-driver family. Although I thought we had a clean claims record, a $301 comprehensive claim for a cracked windshield had faded from our memory. CLUE remembered. In fact, CLUE remembered an accident none of us had.

CLUE stands for Comprehensive Loss Underwriting Exchange, which is run by ChoicePoint Inc. in Atlanta. It maintains a claims database that insurance companies use to decide who gets auto and homeowners insurance and how much they pay.

Homeowners reports have been controversial because they can make it difficult to obtain insurance even if the claims were filed by a home's previous owner. Even more controversial, some insurance companies report you made a claim when you only made a phone call to discuss the possibility. ChoicePoint says it asks insurance companies not to do that.

When it comes to auto reports, claims related to your vehicle or to your address show up on your CLUE report even if they have nothing to do with you. ChoicePoint says it encourages insurance companies to verify the information.

Our auto report showed not only our forgotten $301 windshield claim, but also a mystery accident claim for $2,529, both from 2001. I learned about them when an agent from whom I had requested a quote called and chided me for misrepresenting our claims record. Assurances that we hadn't had an accident weren't enough; the agent was no longer interested in providing a quote.

That prompted me to order my own copy of our CLUE report ($9, but free if you've been turned down for coverage or forced to pay a higher rate). When it came, I discovered the mystery claim belonged to our adult son. Although he lived elsewhere, owned the car in his name and was insured through a different company than we were, his claim was on our record. Why? ChoicePoint said it was because he used our post office box as his mailing address when he took out his policy.

Although ChoicePoint has a procedure for disputing inaccurate information, the company said his claim could not be removed because it really was our post office box. ChoicePoint allowed me to include in our record a statement explaining the circumstances.

When I used an Internet insurance-shopping site to request my next quote, I reported only the windshield claim. A week later, I got an e-mail from the insurance company I selected, asking about the "additional driver in your household," saying he would have to be included on our policy. I again explained the circumstances and haven't heard anything back. I'm hoping my premium rate won't be higher when it comes time to renew.

If you plan to insurance shop, consider ordering your CLUE report ahead of time so you won't be surprised as I was and will have a chance to correct errors. As I found out, you only need to order one report for your whole household. You can order over the Internet ( or if you were denied insurance or by calling 1-866-527-2600. You might want to check your credit report too if you haven't recently, since many insurance companies also rely on it in setting rates